HOUSTON — Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t need to hear the query.
“It feels good to win,” he said with a broad smile before anyone had a chance to ask him about it on Sunday. “That’ll be the first question, so let’s get it out of the way. It feels good to win.”
The Giants got their first victory out of the way, and just in time. At a perilous moment in their season, having dropped the first two games, they finally put forth a performance that came close to meeting their promise. The offense showed signs of life and the defense came up with a pair of key takeaways as the Giants beat the Texans, 27-22, at NRG Stadium.
Eli Manning completed 25 of 29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns, Beckham caught nine passes for 109 yards and rookie Saquon Barkley accounted for 117 all-purpose yards in a virtual must-win game for the Giants. They improved to 1-2 while the Texans fell to 0-3.
“I just feel like we had energy,” Beckham said. “We came out and played like we love the game of football, like this is football and we’re kids and we’re having fun. It was lighter. It wasn’t like we’re 0-2 and we have to go win. It was like ‘let’s go have fun today,’ and that’s what we did and we got the ‘W’ doing that.”
For a lot of Giants, this was their first victory in quite some time. Neither Beckham nor Sterling Shepard had been on the field for a win in 630 days going back to the 2016 regular-season finale on Jan. 1, 2017. The Giants had won three games in that span, but those two receivers were hurt and did not play in any of them.
Left guard Will Hernandez had gone longer. He was on an 0-12 team at UTEP last year. His last win came in December 2016.
“This is a feeling that I’ve been training and fighting for for so long,” Hernandez said. “It’s like a drug to me. I want more of it. We want to do everything we’ve been doing plus more right now to get this feeling as many times as possible.”
For others, the sensation of being in a winning NFL locker room was completely new. As was being in an NFL locker room before the game.
“I kind of knew we were going to win this game,” Barkley said. “Just the way we were in the locker room before, it was different than the first two games. The energy was different. The way we looked in warmups was different. It was just a different ride.”
It was the first win as a head coach for Pat Shurmur since 2012, when he was with the Browns. It was his first win of any kind since the Vikings beat the Saints in the playoffs last season on the Minnesota Miracle with him as offensive coordinator.
“That one was so shocking, I didn’t know how to feel,” Shurmur said.
“It feels special because I think we’re making progress,” he said. “I told the team that when you’re no longer playing and coaching, these locker room settings when you win a game are what you’re going to miss. Hopefully, we don’t miss it for a while here.”
The Giants dominated the first half and led 20-3 late in the second quarter. Barkley scored the opening touchdown on a 15-yard run to make it 7-3 — the first time this season the Giants led — and after a pair of Giants field goals, Rhett Ellison caught a 16-yard touchdown pass with 1:20 left in the second quarter.
The Texans kicked a field goal as time expired in the half to cut it to 20-6.
The offense returned to semi-stagnation in the third quarter, and it was left up to the Giants’ defense to hold the lead. After allowing another field goal that made it 20-9, they contributed a pair of takeaways deep in their own territory.
Kerry Wynn forced a fumble that was recovered by Donte Deayon at the Giants’ 20 with 3:47 left in the third. Then Alec Ogletree intercepted a pass by Deshaun Watson intended for running back Lamar Miller in the end zone 55 seconds into the fourth.
“That was a boost because you felt the game tipping a little bit,” Shurmur said.
Will Fuller V caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Watson that made it 20-15 with 7:37 left, but the Giants stuffed a shovel pass on the two-point conversion. They then produced a nine-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard with 2:08 left to make it 27-15 and seal the win.
“It was good to see us start fast and then also finish the game at the end,” Manning said. “We needed a drive to go finish it and we were able to do that. That was nice to see.”
A touchdown by the Texans with one second remaining affected only the margin of victory.
“Everybody was freaking out about the two games,” Shepard said, “but we remained calm as a team.”
The Giants’ next test will be against the Saints at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Rather than returning as a downtrodden 0-3 team already virtually eliminated from playoff contention, they’ll be one looking to build a winning streak. The Giants haven’t won back-to-back games since Dec. 11 and 18 in 2016.
They’ll have a week to prepare for that challenge. This Sunday was all about relishing a feeling that had been missing for too long.
“Some days are not so good,” Shurmur said. “This was a good day.”
Eli Manning completed 86.2 percent of his passes (25-for-29) on Sunday, the second-highest percentage in his career. A look at Manning’s top performances in terms of completion percentage:
Date Opponent Comp./Att./ Pct.
Dec. 14, 2015 Dolphins 27/31 87.1
Sept. 23, 2018 Texans 25/29 86.2
Oct. 11, 2009 Raiders 8/10 80.0
Nov. 23, 2008 Cardinals 26/33 78.8
Dec. 1, 2013 Redskins 22/28 78.6